I’ve Been Doing Painting Videos All Wrong

For the last year or so I’ve been obsessed with watching instructional videos for painting. I probably own a few thousand dollars worth of videos, plus a subscription to Lynda.com and ArtistsNetwork.tv and I may add another subscription site. I spend about 2-3 hours a week watching videos, and some weeks I may average one a day, especially if I’m trying to figure out a particular technique. What I would do is watch a video, and take notes along the way of what the artist says to do. Then I would watch another one, or I would test out the technique in a bunch of studies.

That’s all changed thanks to Bob Ross, Johannes Vloothius, and Richard Robinson. Now I approach painting videos very differently and it’s radically made learning to paint way more fun.

It all stars with me jokingly deciding to do one of the many Bob Ross DVDs I have purchased. Normally I watch Bob Ross’s episodes when I’m bored and want some background noise or when I want to sleep. He’s better than a pile of Ambien for going to sleep. One day I thought, “Hey, I know how to paint so what would happen if I followed along with Bob?” About three hours of fun and mess later I produced this:

Did this following Bob Ross

It was a hell of a lot of fun, and his method of painting is ridiculously easy to generate a landscape, but after that I just sort of forgot about it and put it on my list of fun late night things to do when I’m bored.

At the same time I’m watching videos I come across Johannes Vloothius’ ImproveMyPaintings.com where he sells courses in landscape painting that are based on online webinars he does. They’re full of lots of information and I started watching his lectures and painting to learn more of the clichés that landscape artists use to prove they “get it”. Using his videos I painted the first painting I sold:

Large Landscape based on a photo and smaller painting.

Yet, all I did was watch him paint and take notes. I’d remember many of the lecture points and most of the information, but when it came to applying them I’d just do studies or do nothing at all. The interesting thing about his courses is he follows each lecture on a subject with a demonstration in oil, watercolor, pastel, and acrylic. I would watch passively and see what he was doing but not much more than that.

It wasn’t until I had watched a few Richard Robinson videos and then attended a workshop he gave in San Francisco that something clicked about painting videos. I bought a few of Richard’s videos because I really liked his painting style. Johannes’ lectures are full of information and he’s a really good teacher, but I don’t particularly like the paintings he does as demos. They’re alright, and they are very instructive, but not really interesting to me. Richard’s paintings are great, and even the demos are paintings I enjoy.

I figured if he was coming to San Francisco then I might as well take a workshop with him, and man he is a great teacher. During the workshop I challenged myself to paint large or odd formats, and during one day I painted this painting that someone walked by and offered to buy:

Painting of Embarcadero Fireboats at Richard Robinson's Workshop

Pushing myself this way also helped me figure out an idea I’ve had for a new way to do drawings that is easy to do and really accurate. I’m still trying to figure out how to simplify it further so I can write about it, but here’s the drawing I did on the final day of the workshop:

Drawing from Golden Gate during Richard Robinson's Workshop

Here’s the painting I made, although I’m not done with this one since I want to add more atmosphere to this blocked in painting:

Painting from Richard Robinson's San Francisco Workshop

This was all so much fun and that workshop really worked well to push me into new territory with my landscapes, so I was interested in grabbing some more videos from Richard and watching them. I went and purchased this set of four videos from one of his workshops in Hawaii and then started watching them. I was hanging out in a cafe, and was mentally tired from writing all day, just wanting to relax, but I did have my paint box with me. I’m watching the videos, and then it hits me:

Why the fuck am I just watching this?! I have paint and supplies right here. I could follow along!

You’re probably thinking, well fucking duh dude. Bob, Johannes, and Richard all say to follow along. Richard says it repeatedly. I just didn’t listen.

I busted out the paint box and started following along. I’d play the video a bit, see what he did, pause it, then replicate it. Sometimes I’d have to rewind some, or watch it for a bit to see the next move, then rewind and follow. When I was done it was all over and this was the aftermath of about 1.5 hours of painting with Richard:

Me at a Cafe painting with Richard Robinson's videos

Not the greatest, but that’s not important. What is important was that I learned way more from following along with Richard than I ever did just watching and taking notes. In fact, I think I’ve learned more doing this than I do at workshops and classes combined because I can pause the video and watch him do exactly that. I then followed along with the next video and produced this painting:

Following Richard Robinson, Wave Against A Rock

While again not the greatest painting, it is probably the best seascape painting I’ve ever painted and now I know how to make a glowing eye of a wave. This was also done with only two colors and a complimentary color scheme.

Why This Matters

You might be thinking, “So what? Who cares if you can paint from a video?” The thing that this made me realize is I now have a way to always be able to paint even if there’s not a very compelling subject to paint as well as the best way to learn from painting videos. In the past I’d drag my paintbox with me on the off chance I might see something I wanted to paint really quick. I think out of every 10 times I’d bring it I would actually stop and paint once. I’d sit at a cafe, working and look at the paintbox, then look around and see just walls and not really be interested then keep working.

Now I always have a subject to paint because if I have my laptop and my paintbox I can startup a video and paint along with any number of artists. They’ll have the subject there already, so I can follow it, and they’ll be teaching a subject. I can take 1-2 hour painting breaks whenever I want and learn something at the same time. I can even just take short 20 minute painting breaks throughout the day because I can pause the videos between breaks.

This is now revolutionizing my painting self-education. Rather than watch videos and read about painting and attempt the techniques later, I can paint along and get both a painting session done for the day and learn the most from the video.

How To Do It

If you want to do this then there’s a few points of guidance that will help you out:

  1. It’s better if the videos have a straight on view of the canvas while the artist paints. Johannes’ and Richard’s videos do this, which is why they’re easier to follow. Richards are slightly better quality and he also puts in mixing palette to the side so you can see what he mixes and even when he uses medium. Both of which are important when trying to follow along.
  2. If the videos have reference photos then get them and study them first before you start.
  3. Try to match the paints that they use so you’re not frustrated trying to follow along.
  4. Your painting will look different from there’s, so just go with it. Bob Ross says this all the time but I think people don’t get that the video is more of a guide than an exact instruction set.
  5. Use a laptop so you can pause easily and rewind quickly. Just try not to get paint on your laptop. A laptop is also about the right size screen to copy to a small canvas panel.
  6. Use 6×8″ or 8×10″ canvas panels rather than the size that the artist uses. You want to match the size of your screen, not really the size of their painting. With Bob Ross’s videos though you can go ahead and match his sizes since a lot of his shots are from far away and at an angle.
  7. Don’t be in a rush to do it. A professional artist is going to go way faster than you will. It’s better to watch them do something, re-watch it until you understand it, then try it and see how it came out compared to theirs. Also remember that a lot of videos are edited for time and don’t show mundane things like cleaning brushes, cleaning knives, mixing, and correcting some mistakes.
  8. Look for video packages that have critiques in them. Johannes and Richard’s video packages will have a certain number of critiques in them where the artist goes through student paintings and talks about how to improve them. You’ll start to see common patterns of mistakes and then be able to look at your paintings the same way.
  9. The only mistakes in following along are the brush strokes that are totally wrong which you can’t go with. Most of the time you’ll put down a bit of color and it might be different from the artist’s, but you can keep it and work with it still. Sometimes though you put down such a totally wrong stroke that it just has to go. In this case scrape it off and do it again! The biggest mistake beginners in painting and coding make is thinking that adding more paint/code more will fix broken paint/code. It doesn’t. Just scrape it off and try again.
  10. I’d also say this will be way more fun if you already know how to paint a bit. If you know nothing then it’ll be a messy lesson in frustration because you won’t know basics. For example, when I see an artist mix a color I’m strong enough in my color skills that I can glance at it and mix one close enough that works for the painting in about 10 seconds. If you don’t know the basics of color theory you’ll sit there mixing piles of the wrong color wondering what you’re doing wrong. Start with simple basic painting classes, books, and videos on ArtistsNetwork.tv before tackling a full painting video.

Hope that helps you out.

Artists And Entrepreneurs Oh My

The Atlantic has this incredibly long winded and very one-sided view of art history that makes the claim that entrepreneurs are the new artists. At first I thought this was a huge load of bullshit, but then I realized they may be on to something. I thought about it for, like, 5 minutes more and realized that The Atlantic is brilliant! They have nailed it. The entrepreneur and the artist have so much in common.

Sexy

I have this new theory on accomplishment that you can say you are good at a thing once you either get paid or laid doing it. Since most artists never get paid for their work, all they have is getting laid to prove that they’re actually accomplished at making colorful wall decorations for incredibly rich assholes to hide in their mansions. This is why artists strive so hard to be sexy, but they don’t have to try very hard because our society has placed them near the top of the boning scale. When you read about artists you find out that they’re simply banging everything. Men, women, cans of paint, animals, everything. They’re so desirable for their ability to apply pigment in ways that makes wealthy people wealthier that they can simply walk down the street and get some hot BDSM action.

But who’s at the top of this scale of getting laid? That’s right, the wealthy. There are people so wealthy they can throw Nazi themed sex parties with super models and artists in attendance without any problems. The entrepreneur just has to pretend he’s on track to be wealthy and he can viagra his way right to the tippy top boning ranks on the promise that one day he might invent Uber and stop being an ugly lumpy looking trollkin looking thing just like Travis Kalanick.

World Changing

Entrepreneurs and artists are both about changing the world. For the artist it’s by selling piles of garbage, paintings of incomprehensible color patterns, sculptures of dildos, or literally nothing to incredibly wealthy patrons who then hide the art in their mansions so nobody can see it. By selling art to the crazy wealthy, artists are being socially conscious participants in the world and making sure that poor kids in Detroit can see art every day. That’s how you change the world when you’re an artist. You soften the hearts of the wealthy while they’re banging a stripper at their Nazi themed sex parties.

Entrepreneurs are also trying to change the world with their glorious startups. For them it’s all about selling the startup to the same wealthy patrons either through investments or just getting bought out after they’ve driven their business into the ground. They’ll change the world with their “uber for diapers” for sure, and everyone in the company will benefit from their stock options and make like $5000 whole dollars after the investors make their millions or billions. ‘Cause that’s how you change the world my friends. By fattening the pockets of the wealthy while they’re filling a warehouse with meth to give to the strippers they keep in their dungeon.

Entitled

Artists love to say that there needs to be more artists and that means they shouldn’t have to work a shitty day job like the rest of us “non-creatives” to be able to do what we love. As Molly Crabapple said over at Boing Boing:

“The number one thing that would let more independent artists exists in America is a universal basic income.”

Molly sells her art to really super wealthy people, so she knows that in order to have more art end up in the hands of crazy wealthy assholes, you need more artists. I mean, how else can they speculate on the art market if there’s not more people producing art to speculate on? It’s like when banks were hiring crackheads to help fill out loan applications in 2008. If you have wild speculation on something, you will find just about anyone to make it for you.

But read that quote again. Apparently artists are so entitled and so special (and also mostly white) that they feel they deserve totally free money with no strings attached for simply existing. Notice she didn’t say, “The country would a better place if there was a universal basic income.” She didn’t even say, “We could help the poor with a universal basic income.” She said, “The way you take all those rich kids who can afford $180k in tuition and turn them into ‘artists’ is to give them money to blow on heroin rather than working like the rest of us.” I still don’t know why artists think they shouldn’t have to work like everyone else to gain the freedom to do what they love, but apparently it’s super important. Probably involves giving children and the poor things that will actually just benefit someone wealthy.

Artists are so entitled now that they don’t even want to suffer for their art, but if you want even more entitlement then you need to look no further than entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are so special, and so unique, that we debate whether they’re born or made. They are special breeds of humans who are real men taking risks that nobody else will by taking money from incredibly wealthy people in loans that have zero risk to them. Entrepreneurs are the good looking, strong willed, powerful future despots of the Kingdom of Corporate and everyone else is just a worthless nobody who needs to work for them.

And just like artists, entrepreneurs feel they should be given free money just because they exist and can sling together two words around a preposition. Once they get that money their entire life’s goal is to then avoid working at all costs. It’s the entrepreneur dream to make his bank then go steal a public access beach like the Ocean Grinch.

Important

Artists are very important. Why? Pfft. How dare you ask that! Because art is important! No, not everyone can make art silly. Only true artists can make art, and you better not question their socially conscious washing machine scupltures because that’s just an affront to all that is art. How dare you have an opinion on what you like, commoner. You commoners are so lacking in social consciousness it disgusts me. Art feeds the souls of the poor wealthy men who can afford to buy it. Art helps children who’s parents are rich enough to live near schools with art programs. Art is everything, and by extension so is everyone who calls anything they do “art”. Artists are vastly important, and even though everything anyone produces is valid art, not everyone can make just anything like an artist can make just anything and call it art.

Entrepreneurs are just as important. Everything they make is clearly going to change the world. Whether that’s helping Starbucks open more Starbucks, making the cold fusion of batteries, or automating AirBNB, they are definitely changing the world. They’re going to make those poor wealthy investors so much more money that they’ll have no choice but to give their employees another, like, thousand dollars in bonuses once they get sold to Google as a pity deal. Entrepreneurs are the life blood of the world and when they gain power, wow, do they do great things with their money.

Entreprenuers are so important that they are mythological beings who are the sacred guardians of bitcoin (who apparently told a judge he should be released so he can change the world).

Similarities

It’s true. I now see it. Entrepreneurs and artists now share that incredible sweet spot in our society of being given positions of great status for doing so little. They are allowed to produce anything and declare it a sign that they are somehow more special than the rest of us. More important. More deserving of favor than us common idiots who work boring day jobs. No longer should they have to struggle to do their important work of making things for the ultra wealthy. No my dear readers, they are everything in our society and champions of our plight.

Artists and Entrepreneurs belong together.

Tiny Painting At Baker Beach Before The Tide

I haven’t been able to paint outside for the last few days because it has been too damn cold in San Francisco. Yes, all you people living in colder places are so much tougher than anyone living in San Francisco. Sure. Totally. But it was freezing and windy and sucked to paint under those conditions, plus I had a little cold so I stayed inside for most of the week. I’m a wuss.

Today I really needed to go out and get some sun, and I decided I would go to a more secluded part of Baker Beach that is shielded by some rocks and a cliff. Normally I just stop near the entrance and hang out there, but that’s become boring. The only issue with painting by the cliffs is you can get trapped out there if you don’t watch the tide. I found a small spot among some of the rocks, and did a tiny little test run using my “cutie kit”.

Hurrying Before The Tide Comes In At Baker Beach

This kit has a thumb hole in the bottom so I can actually hold it and paint right on the panel while I’m standing. Very easy to do, and doesn’t weigh too much as long as it’s not loaded with paint. I managed to get this painting down in about 30 minutes then the tide was hitting my shoes so I bailed.

From Baker Beach Before The Tide Came In

I ended up making the water way too green so it looks like a weird field of grass rather than water. There would need to be more reflected sky light in the water to make it look less like grass, and even though it was green, more toward the light and blue side than the red and dark side like it is now.

After this I decided to alter what’s in the cutie kit slightly so that the box is lighter to hold and easier to work with while standing. I ditched a lot of the brushes I wasn’t using, changed the colors to just 4 tubes (Yellow Ochre, Napthol Scarlet, Chromatic Black, Titanium White), and that makes it easier to setup and hold.

I also think that I’ll lay the colors out and prepare them on the little palette before going out. Being as they’re oil paint (well Alkyd with some medium I mix in), they will stick to the palette and just hang there without moving while I walk around. It’s kind of a pain to be standing there in the cold watching the tide and trying to lay out blobs of paint before you can paint. A better option is to just have it already to go so I can just take it out of the case, open it up, and go for it.

Finally, I have additional tubes of color in the little case that the box comes with so I can change it up if I want to move the color choice in a different direction. I’ll be writing about this whole setup and how I use it in more depth later so people who are interested can try it out too. These days I carry this little case around with me all the time so I can do some tiny oil paintings whenever I want. Great little hobby in a cafe, but you have to watch for the smell in case people in the cafe freak out about it.

More on all of this later.

Memories of Old Reno, Pass 2

Continuing my exploration of painting a large painting from memory (story so far here) I worked on the painting I’m calling “Memories of Old Reno” again tonight. This time my goal was to refine the edges, get more parts of the painting accurate, and continue to do it from memory. This time I spent less time studying the painting from the projection and would instead study for about a minute, but only a small piece, then go in the other room to correct that piece. I would say I spent about 85% of my time painting and the rest studying in the other room.

Here’s the results after tonight:

Memories of Old Reno, Round 2

For reference here is Pass 1:

Monochrome Block-in For Old Reno Painting

The only thing is I think I screwed up by using a bit of thinner to get the paint less stiff in some parts. I’m not sure what that will do given I’m using an alkyd based paint, but the warning is that this causes cracking. I guess I’ll find out in about six months. The first pass was completely dry though, so hopefully it’s not a big deal.

Incidentally, if you want to see another weird project I did for Christmas check out Alexandré Phoqué, Artisté. I managed to convince a few people on a mailing list I hang out on to let me make horrible weird portraits of their loved ones as white elephant Christmas presents. It was a lot of fun, so I will plan on doing many more of those in the near future.

Memories Of Old Reno: Pass 1

After writing yesterday’s post about painting from memory I sat down to do it. Actually I watched 3 hours of Grimm while I practiced drawing faces by pausing the show then drawing what I see. I chose Grimm because that show has become so completely stupid that it doesn’t matter if I’m not really paying attention to it, yet I want to see if the writers actually recover from the total disaster they created in this last season. Nope, that show’s junk. It does work great as a source of faces all lit with chiaroscuro though.

The First Memory Sketches

Once I finished annoying myself with a stupid TV show I setup the projector in my bedroom so I could study it and try to memorize it.

What The Projector Looks Like

Projected on my wall like that (but straight since the photo is so you can see it projected) I can lay in bed and take mental notes of what I need to remember. I’ll explain in a bit how you do that, but I should warn you the description of how to do it sounds batshit crazy because I’m trying to explain something I just…do. It’s weird. Like explaining blinking to someone who’s never had eyelids.

First thing I try to do is memorize the overall shapes of the whole thing, and to do this I focus my eyes on the edges of the scene (that’s the projected image) and look at it with my peripheral vision. I also point my eyes in the center but unfocus them so that the entire image fills my vision and I’m passively letting it all in. At the same time I’m clearing my mind so that I’m not thinking about anything and not internally talking, just observing and letting it all in. For lack of a better term I call this “gestalt sight”.

I do this for 6 minutes then get up and go into my living room where I’ve setup some newsprint paper and a stick of charcoal so I can draw a value sketch from memory. The first attempt I produced this:

First Sketch of Old Reno From Memory

Notice how I got the general big shapes, proportions are kind of alright, the big black shapes are there of the street and other places, but the relative size of the marquee and the upper portion of the building aren’t there.

With a first guess down on paper I need to then figure out the delta between what I remember and what’s actually in the scene. This is an important step because otherwise I won’t be improving my recall of images and correcting what I see in them. I take this first drawing to the scene and I make mental notes of what I need to focus on in the next memory round. Then put the newsprint pad back in the other room.

The next strategy is to use my sense of touch and my mind’s eye to help remember the scene. I set the timer for another 6 minutes and spend that cycling between “gestalt sight” and pretending I’m touching the scene. Yes, this is as weird as it sounds, but what I do is I first gestalt the scene for about 30 seconds or however long it takes until my mind starts to wander and I hear my mind talking. Then I take my pinky finger, close one eye, and I put my pinky into my vision of the scene and then trace it around the shapes but I imagine that I’m touching the shapes. As I do this, I’ll close my eye and try to hold the image in my mind and keep my finger going in the right direction for that edge, using just my imaginary sense of touch. Then I will open my eyes and peek to see if I got to the right part of the scene while my eyes were closed. If not I go back and keep my eyes open and keep touching it. Eventually this becomes boring and I then stop and switch back to gestalt seeing.

It’s bizarre, and really hard to describe but basically I alternate between absorbing the whole thing without thinking about it and tracing the image with my pinky while opening and closing my right eye in an attempt to feel the scene and test what my mind will remember of it. After 6 more minutes of this I produced this charcoal sketch:

Memory Sketch for Old Reno 2

Vast improvement in just two rounds of memorization. The advantage of using charcoal on newsprint for these sketches is you can do them very fast without having any setup, and you can get a good range of values. If you have to do cross hatching and changing pencils then it’ll be a friction on your recall and make it more difficult.

I felt I could have started painting from just that, but I wanted to do one more round and try to edit the composition. I don’t want to paint the photo exactly, not that I could from memory. I want to embellish what I see and edit something out to make it more interesting. For example, in the original photo:

The Basis Of A New Painting Project

There’s a bus stop on a light post I’ve already edited out. I want to change the building on the right, and maybe a few other parts so in round 3 of memorizing I’m going to try to memorize the scene, and then also remember what I want to change of it. Going through the same process of gestalt/tracing I’m able to produce this charcoal sketch:

Memory Drawing of Old Reno 3

It sounds impossible that someone can do this, and trust me I do not have a photographic memory. In fact, the skill of photographic memory hasn’t been proven to exist, and one of the major studies claiming it existed was of a single woman, who was married to the researcher, and who never demonstrated it again after the study. I’m just doing something anyone can practice and remember, I just think most people haven’t tried or even thought it was possible.

What I’m actually doing is remembering shapes and their relationship to each other, starting with about 5, then breaking them down into smaller ones inside those. It’s a trick called chunking where I’m not memorizing all the little squares and details in one giant mosaic. Instead I have a big gestalt framework that, if I used words, would be something like “big white trapezoid on top, dark black square on right, big medium triangle in the middle, another wider triangle on top, big square on right, two big squares below.”

Then when I have those down, I don’t need to keep them in memory. I kind of use a “graphic binary search tree” to use a programmer term. The next round I figure out what I need to remember details for, many times many shapes, and then I stare inside them. I navigate to the “big rectangle in the center” in my mental binary search tree, and start gestalt/tracing to remember what’s inside it, “vertical dark rectangle, trapezoid, big rectangle, words, etc.” once I think I have that I then have that piece chunked and can push it back onto my internal stack and do another thing.

I don’t literally use a binary search tree in my head. I can’t even use words to explain what I’m doing, but a binary search tree is the best description of what I’m doing. I don’t memorize thousands of features. I memorize 5 or so, then 5 or so inside those 5, then 5 more inside those, until I have enough.

I recommend getting Memory Drawing if you really want to learn this, as that book has progressive exercises you can attempt and more extensive explanations.

The Painting

With the scene mostly memorized I decided to do a simple monochrome block-in on the canvas I just bought. I wanted to attempt something large and involved, so I bought a 24″x36″ canvas with a black primed surface. Lately I’ve been into the black canvas to start out. Not sure why, but when I use a white canvas I start off by painting a color onto it so it’s not white anymore, so I figured why not just get one that’s black. Black canvas seems to make it easier to get values right since I just have to paint on the white shapes then push from there to the black.

Since this is just a first pass underpainting from memory, I decided to use simple black and white alkyd paints and thin them with turpentine so they dry fast. Alkyds dry in about 24 hours, so for this project I’ll be able to work for a night, then the next night I can work on it again without having to wait. A little bit of quick dry medium in the paints make them dry even quicker, and as I write this blog post I can see the painting is probably already dry.

With the scene in my mind, I just stood there and painted this:

Monochrome Block-in For Old Reno Painting

There’s some shapes that are totally crooked or just wrong, but I did it without looking at the projected image or at my sketches like I planned. I simply followed the binary search tree in my mind. I put down some lines for the big shapes, chose the first one that was clearest in my mind, developed it, then went to the next one that I could recall, then used those to guess about or improve the others.

Keep in mind that there’s also a lot of just guessing at what should there than some crystal image floating in my head. I’m painting what I remember, but I’m also stepping back and looking at the painting to say, “Hmmm, nah that can’t be the right shape, it’d look better like this.” That might make the painting wrong according to the scene, but if it makes the painting work better then I’ll go with that. Sometimes though I guess at what it should be, then I go look at the scene and say, “Aha! That’s why it looks screwed up, I remember this wrong.”

Old Reno From Memory

While I was teaching myself to paint last year I stumbled on this concept of training your visual memory to learn to draw. It started with a reference in an obscure book to a man named Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran who was an artist and teacher in France in 1848. Lecoq had devised a method of teaching students by creating progressively more difficult visual memorization puzzles. Lecoq’s idea was that if a artist could hold images and visual facts in their memory more easily then they could render what they see better. He also suspected that students struggled with problems of value, form, and perspective because they hadn’t trained their ability to remember exactly what they see vs. what they thought they saw.

Lecoq wrote a small couple essays that are collected in the book The Training of the Memory in Art and Education of the Artist which I read and tried out some of his ideas, but the book suffers from his attempts to convince you that the training works rather than simply describing it and crafting a set of exercises you can do. The reason for this is shortly after Lecoq began teaching his course he was ousted or left the academy and seems to have become bitter about it.

Curious about whether you can train something like this, I kept searching and I found another book by Darren Rousar called Memory Drawing. This book is based on Darren’s training that followed a similar style as Lecoq described, but his book actually expands on it, explains it better, and then includes many exercises that I was able to do. The book is very small but it doesn’t take much to explain the concept and it was easy to do the exercises, although actually getting them right was very difficult. They’re simple things like copying lines of various length, or getting random shapes right, or curves, then progressing farther. To do each exercise I would stare at the challenge for 2-3 minutes, then turn around to try to draw the shape on a piece of tracing paper. Once I felt I had it right, I would turn back around and lay the tracing paper on the challenge to see what I got right or wrong. Then I would draw red lines where I made mistakes and try it again until I got as close as possible.

And I loved it. This was a very satisfying challenge that seemed to really click with my brain. It was meditative and difficult but I could still progress with it. At a certain point I stopped doing the challenges and started attempting small objects on my apartment floor in watercolor. Simple things like this:

Drawn and painted from memory from months ago.

This is nothing spectacular as a painting, but the important part is I did it without looking directly at the objects. I would stare at it for 3 minutes, then turn my back to it and try to paint what I remember. While I did this I would feel really great. It made me ecstatically happy to attempt this, even if I got it wrong and had to keep trying, I still felt great trying to memorize what I saw. The act of memorization was almost like a meditation. It’s just hard to explain, so let’s just say I liked it a lot.

The Old Reno Project

I did this for a few months and feel the memory practice vastly improved my perceptual memory skills and how I process visual information, but I didn’t do it consistently. I got to a point, then got excited about it and started just painting like normal and working from there. After a while of study with normal painting practice, I really want to get back into memory practice. Both for the training and because it’s enjoyable.

However, I have also wanted to do an insanely large painting. I’ve done a lot of small paintings, and I personally think doing a lot of small faster paintings is better training. What I want to try then is something a few artists have mentioned in books I’ve read where you attempt to paint a large painting, from memory, by repeatedly going back to a specific place to study it. I’ve wanted to try it for a while, but tonight I finally bought the canvas to start it.

Rather than go to a specific place repeatedly, what I’ll do is use this photo I took of a rundown casino in Reno that I liked:

The Basis Of A New Painting Project

I recently purchased a Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 which is this weird Android tablet with a projector in the side of it. The projector addition is actually awesome because I can use it for all kinds of art experiments like playing with projection and painting from large photos. For this project, I’ll use the projector to project the photo in one room of my apartment, then paint it from memory in another room.

The Process

How I’ll try to do this is this:

  1. Spend about 30 minutes in the projection room (my bedroom) studying the projection, taking notes, measurements, sketching quickly from memory right there, and generally memorizing the image.
  2. Leaving any notes or anything I’ve made behind, I go into the painting room (my studio) and try to paint what I remember for as long as I can.
  3. Spend a few minutes memorizing the painting, then go back into the projection room to see what is different.
  4. Repeat.

In theory this should take a while, which is what I want. I’m curious to see how a painting, done from memory, in this way, over a long period of time, feels and what the results are. I’m also curious to find out what it’s like painting a large painting. What are the problems and technical issues?