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  • April 14, 2021 11:39 AM | Dan Nelson

    Here is a  recipe for progress as a painter:

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    10-parts------“WOW! I’M AWESOME!”

    For every 1-part------ “RATS! THAT SUCKS!”

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    The reason I mention this is because I have taught hundreds of students over the years, and I’m afraid the great majority of them get this backwards.

    We all struggle with that nasty inner-voice of condemnation. Some of us were aided in this struggle by parents who didn’t know how to affirm because they had never been adequately affirmed. (Or else they were just jerky parents, but I digress.)

    I’m talking about how you talk to yourself when you’re painting. Sure, every once in awhile you learn a good hard lesson, and it's appropriate to say, “Whoops! I make that mistake a lot.” But in between every one of those inner-rebukes there should be about NINE “Hey! That looks pretty good!”

    Frankly, 40 years after the infusion of "Oprah-ism" into our culture, I'm still amazed there are so many people who haven't got the memo: PEOPLE PERFORM BETTER WITH ENCOURAGEMENT.

    Drill sergeants have their place. IT'S IN THE MARINES.

    In all the rest of life, that's just not the way healthy humans operate.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Forgive me while I vent for a minute-- If you have EVER had one of those art teachers who belittles, humiliates, shames, or harshly criticizes their students . . . NEVER TAKE A CLASS FROM THEM AGAIN! And more than that-- tell everybody else NOT to take a class from them. They are blight on the industry. If they have to starve for a little while before they shape up, so be it.

    Okay, vent finished. I fell better already. Send me your invoice.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Let me flesh this out by walking you through the typical painting session of a typical painter :


    UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: O, crap! I only have 50 minutes to paint!

    HEALTHY RESPONSE: Yay! I have a little time to paint!

    2. SET UP EASEL-- have trouble getting one leg set up right.

    UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: I hate this stupid easel! It never works!

    HEALTHY RESPONSE: Next time I get this out, I'll try to remember my screwdriver.

    3. PUT PAINTS ON PALETTE-- missing one color.

    UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: --*!#+¡£¢§¶!!!-- Now I can't paint! I'm missing one color!

    HEALTHY RESPONSE: Hmm . . . wonder what I can do with a 'limited palette'?

    4. START TO SKETCH-- mess up and draw poorly.

    UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: --*!#+¡£¢§¶!!!-- I'm such a lousy artist! I can never draw things   right!

    HEALTHY RESPONSE: Hmm . . . maybe if I slow down . . . try again . . .  maybe trace a        little, or use a grid . . .

    5. START MIXING COLOR-- Accidentally pick up too much of one color.

    UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: --*!#+¡£¢§¶!!!-- See!? I always do that! I'm terrible at mixing           colors!

    HEALTHY RESPONSE: Hum a bit of your favorite tune. Wipe off brush, mix again.

    I know that might be a little bit harsh . . . but I have taught thousands of students over the years, and in every single class I witness at least a couple of those UNHEALTHY RESPONSES. (More than a couple. I'm being generous.)

    So it's time I unveil to the world (trumpet fanfare!) Dan Nelson's #1 LAW OF PAINTING:

    BE NICE TO YOURSELF!!!! And the #1 COROLLARY to the #1 LAW:


    Life is short. Enjoy the process. Exorcize bad parenting (if that's what you had); forgive them, and move on. Then exorcize bad self-talk habits. Forgive yourself and move on.

    I always close my posts with these words: Happy Painting! And this time I really mean it--

    Happy Painting!


  • April 09, 2021 8:12 AM | Dan Nelson

    I know not everyone grew up the way I did. To put it bluntly, we were poor. Thankfully, we didn’t realize it, and our parents taught us how to hold our heads up, behave, and be thankful. One trait it engendered in me, however, is a life-long tendency to skimp. That can be a good impulse in much of life . . . but it's not so good when you sit down to paint. My years of observation as a teacher has shown me that I’m not the only one with this tendency.

    I heard a smart teacher say once, "You can't paint and save money at the same time!" That is really true.

    When you set up your oil palette, you put just the tiniest dab of paint possible for each color? Do you use a tiny little cup for your Brush Cleaning Solution? Do you buy small tubes of paint, cheap paint, and small brushes? Believe it or not, ALL of those habits are actually COSTING you money... and making you a WORSE PAINTER at the same time!


    1) You want to do good artwork

    2) You don't want to waste money.

    HERE, then, are some money saving tips you might not have thought of, yet --


    - Put reasonably large dollops of paint on your palette -- from the size of a Hershey's Kiss up to half a golf ball. ***When you are finished painting, put your palette in the freezer. If you know you're not going to paint for more than a week, put Saran wrap on the paints. A tiny pile of paint will make you overly cautious about using some of that color!

    - Use a LARGE (at least a pint, preferably quart-size) canister for your Gamsol / Turpenoid WITH A LID. Remember: the oil pigments will settle to the bottom of your cleaning solution, so you can use the Solution over and over. If you want, you can periodically collect the gunk at the bottom of your rinse can and put it into new paint tubes for your own "Torrit Gray". Do NOT use "odorless paint thinner," however-- It will eat your synthetic brushes and cause the fibers to curl.


    - Cheap paint is usually expensive because it has LESS PIGMENT in it, so you have to use a lot more to achieve the desired effect.

    - Buy Titanium instead of Zinc white. Zion is weaker, so you just have to use more. Get Titanium and adjust accordingly.

    (If you're an oil painter, you might want to try fast-drying Alkyd oil for your Titanium.)

    - Speaking of Titanium -- put out several small dollops of white instead of one huge pile. That way, you're less likely to cross-contaminate each pile with the wrong color.

    - Good quality brushes tend to last a lot longer, so cheap brushes might be more expensive than you think.

    - If you think you can save money by stretching your own canvasses, think again; you can't touch the efficiency of a factory-stretching process.


    - A Masterson Stay-Wet Palette will pay for itself in ONE painting. Get one and follow the instructions.

    - In addition to that - - you already know to have spray bottle handy, right? Good. I thought so.

    Well, that's enough for now. What have YOU found that saves you money... And still let's you do good paintings? Agfa with us here.

    In the meantime,

    Keep On Painting!


  • April 01, 2021 11:26 AM | Dan Nelson

    Having a hard time figuring out what to paint next? 

    Believe it or not, “Painting whatever you want” might be hurting your creativity. 

    Most people work best within some kind of boundary. Doing “whatever you want” sounds good . . . but it can easily lead to the paralysis of “Where in the world do I start?” Believe it or not, having something to push against usually makes us more creative, not less. 

    The “12-bar blues” always follow the exact same basic chord pattern:  1  1  1  1,  4  4  1  1,  5  4  1  1.  In classical music, the Symphony, the Sonata, the Rondo and Concerto all follow a carefully subscribed form . . . And no one would say such music lacks creativity.

    A lot of poetry is the same way— Haiku poetry all has the same pattern . . . or it’s not Haiku. A Shakespearian sonnet always has the rhyming pattern: ABBA, ABBA, CDC, DEE. 

    Coming down a few notches, everybody recognizes a limerick; the rhyming pattern is always AABBA—

    There once were two cats of Kilkenny,

    Each thought there was one cat too many,

    So they fought and they fit,

    And they scratched and they bit,

    Til Instead of two cats, there weren’t any.

    (There ya go! Not a day made that aint better with a little limerick in it!)

    All these “rules”— rather than stifling creativity— actually help engender it. When we are forced to work within some kind of restriction, our creativity actually increases. I experienced this many times during my years as an illustrator. The ad agency would tell me WHAT to paint. I never squawked “Hey! you’re squelching my creativity!” Their assignments actually caused me to dig deep and come up with something better than they expected.

    Want a good start to your next painting? Give yourself some restrictions. 

    Some of us in FALC did this near the beginning of the lockdown— The call went out: “Paint something in your kitchen.” or “Paint something you can see from your window.” Most people would think that kind of thing limits our creativity— quite the opposite is true; pushing against a barrier opens us up to new possibilities. “Paint something in the world” is usually not very helpful.

    There are many other categories of restriction for painters, of course— Try using a “Limited Palette.” A classic version of is this from Anders Zorn, about a hundred years ago: Cad Red Light, Ivory Black, Titanium White and Yellow Ochre. (Here’s a pretty good article on that: https://givemezorn.wordpress.com/2018/02/06/color-mixing-with-the-zorn-palette/)

    Try limiting yourself to paintings no larger than 4 x 5-inches for a month . . .  or do nothing but a palette knife for a couple weeks, or paint nothing but old socks! You get the idea— limitations spark creativity.

    If you can’t find any others, I’ll give you one right now: STOP wherever you are right now. Force yourself to do a sketch of something within 6 feet of your body. Do that once a day for a week. Then take one of your sketches, and develop it into a painting. 

    Let us know know it goes!

    So what ideas do you have to “limit” your art and spark creativity? 

    Happy painting.


  • March 18, 2021 3:50 PM | Dan Nelson

    Are You A Goal-Setter or a Process-or? 

    If you promise not to tell, I’m going to tell you one of the dark little secrets of my life:  ( S h h h ! )  

                                                                                   —        I         D    O    N  ’  T        S   E   T        G   O    A    L    S    .          —

    TRIED lots of times, but never succeeded. I am a complete and utter failure as a Goal-Setter.

    The only reason this might matter is I think that I might not be the only one.

    For me, this is one of the mysteries of the life-coach / motivational speaker / business advisor culture. Virtually every “expert” I have ever listened to told me that I was supposed to set goals— 10-year goals, 5-year goals, 12-month, 6-month, two-week goals . . . you know the drill. I’m always sitting there in the audience trying to look really small so no-one will ask me, “So Dan— What are your 10-year goals?”  (“Um . . . To be alive??”)

    Okay . . . the truth is I NO LONGER worry about the fact that I’m a goal-setting wash-out. Why? because contrary to the prominent motivational narrative— I have discovered that not all successful people set goals. There is a whole alternative way to live. It’s what I call LIVING BY PROCESS

    Here’s an example from my youthful self: I ran track in high school and college. I was a pretty-good small-college distance runner. Won a few races; lost a bunch. But I never “set a goal” to run a 4-minute mile. I’m really glad I didn’t, because, frankly, I now know a 4-minute mile was never in me, no matter how hard I might have trained. But my “goal”—if you want to call it that— was to do as hard a workout TODAY as I could . . . and then do it again the NEXT DAY, and then the day after that, and so on. So I eventually ran a mile in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. Not bad. Not a goal. Just the result of PROCESS.

    Pretty much my whole life has followed this pattern. I don’t have a goal to play trumpet in the North Carolina Symphony, I just hope to have a good practice TODAY . . . if i can squeeze it in. So I’m a pretty-good non-NC Symphony trumpet player. 

    What does this have to do with art? Well, nothing, if you’re wired to be a goal-setter. So if you are, go join one of those “30 paintings in 30 days” Facebook groups, or something. ALL the life-coaches in the world will cheer you on. 

    But some of you are like me, and some of you might need encouragement to be a PROCESS PAINTER. Just paint today. Or TRY to, anyway. And then try to paint again tomorrow. If you make it your “GOAL” to paint every day, you will fail at some point, then you’ll feel like a failure. So forget the Goal. Just paint. Because that’s real life. It’s a process. 

    The Tortoise and the Hare story had the same lesson: Process away. And admire all those dazzling goal-setting hares. 

    Til you pass ‘em.

    Happy (Process) Painting!

    So what do you think? 


  • February 05, 2021 5:51 PM | Judy Brubach

    I recently built my own projector for projecting images from my cell phone to a canvas, to get those basic landmark lines and shapes down.  It saves time, but more than that, I had fun building a projector out of a cardboard box, magnifying glass lens, and a mirror.  good weekend project.

  • February 05, 2021 1:29 PM | Beth Barger

    Never has humanity had so many alternatives for learning stuff: schools, classes, and clinics; meetings with friends, meetings with masters, and meetings online; books, blogs and brochures; YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Twitch, Reddit, Fed It, and Let It!

    At the same time, one of the chief pleasures of getting older is realizing that we don’t have to be like anybody else. Gone is that youthful drive that made us feel like we had to do everything like everybody else.  Advancing years have helped me realize what I’m really good at, what I’m really bad at, and to be content with the latter. 

    We all learn differently. Maybe you’ve had an experience something like mine: I look at the work of some artist I admire, and they say “Here’s how I have gotten so good at art. And if you’re really smart, you’ll do it just like ME!” Then I go off and try it . . . only to pick up my crumpled self a couple months down the line and realize that what worked for Mr. Big-Shot Artist just doesn’t work for me!

    I’m not even going to tell you how I learn best, but here are some of the ways that work for some people. You might find a new one to try for yourself. Better yet, zero in on one you’re already doing and take the rest as mild suggestions. Give ‘em a try (for awhile!) when you’re feeling particularly adventuresome—

    • Buy a book about your favorite artist, read it, mark it up, tell your friends what you’ve learned.

    • Copy a work by your one of your favorite artists.

    • Take a week-long class (after Covid!) OR take a 3-hour class . . . whichever fits your schedule and your budget.

    • Travel with an art teacher. 

    • Subscribe the the YouTube channel of your favorite artist. If they offer premium content for a charge, try that . . . if that fits your personality and your budget.

    • Collect bits and pieces of artwork that inspire you; stick ‘em in a file folder. Look at them once in awhile.

    OR stick then on your mirror!

    • Attend on-line critique groups (AHEM!! FALC has one of these, 2nd Wednesday of each month!)

    • None of the above! Just go “deep” into who you are; get away from the rush, meditate . . . be YOU.

    This list could go on and on. The main point is: DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU; don’t worry about everybody else.

    So what have YOU found in the realm of continuing education that works for YOU? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

    Happy Painting!


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