Thursday, 11 October 2007

60 Minutes to Better Painting: Improve Your Skills in Oil and Acrylic by Craig Nelson

This article is a review of 60 Minutes to Better Painting: Improve Your Skills in Oil and Acrylic by Craig Nelson.

Craig Nelson articulates in simple words (and with his paintings) the benefits of quick studies, by themselves, or as a test before attempting a finished painting. His approach is practical and it is easy to see the teacher behind the artist.

I already discussed some practice tips for quick studies in my article
Pochades: practice makes perfect that I wrote before I read this book. The benefits the author lists match my own experience: studies help you to break inhibitions, not to be afraid of mistakes, to learn the difference between lines and mass, learn brushwork and understand how to see.

Craig demonstrates the use of three time frames: 25-30 minutes, 40-45 minutes and 60 minutes. I would not go as far as having a timer in front of me when I paint, but setting a time limit (use your watch) is an excellent idea.

Example of demonstration in the book. You can see on the right corner of each image the icon with the time spent on a particular step.

The demonstrations are classic step-by-step ones showing the painting from start to finish. The added feature is a small icon showing the time spent for each step. I would not try to copy the demonstrations in the book.
The reader should rather understand the spirit, the main stages and the techniques used (like the “Two value statement technique” and “The block-in technique” which are well explained) and apply them to her or his own studies.

Numerous examples in the book will inspire you to paint your own favourite subjects and to seek new ones.

The parts I preferred in the book dealt with:

  • Composition: The book puts a great emphasis on composition, exploring cropping, simplifying, points of view and how to break the space in interesting ways. There is one page titled “Compositional clues” with thumbnails of different compositions arranged in a “Yes” and a “No” columns, with diagrams and short comments to explain the flaws and the strength of each composition. This page does not look fancy but contains so much information that you have to come back to it.

  • Lighting effects: The part on creating light effects is very well done, concise yet clears, on the possibilities offered by different lighting conditions (flat lighting, sunlight, low angle light and night lighting as well as atmosphere in lighting).

  • Editing: How to simplify, edit out elements or add them to balance the composition in a finished painting done from studies.

The chapter on colours is limited to the minimum. It contains a short explanation of the full palette, the limited palette and analogous colours. This is not the core of the book, but it gives you enough clues to go and explore.

The last part of the book discusses how to use quick studies to execute more refined paintings in the studio.

Overall, 60 Minutes to Better Painting: Improve Your Skills in Oil and Acrylic is an excellent book that you will keep in your art books library after reading it. It does not try to cover all grounds of painting with oil or acrylic, but gives you a logical path to practice using quick studies and it delivers on the promises of its subtitle: “improve your skills in oil and acrylic”.

An immediate effect of this book is the urge it gives you to paint. I executed the
“Watching the movie” study as a result of reading this book and it comforted me in painting pochades and quick studies.

Favourite quotes from the book

“Remember: color is always about relationships, greys vs. intensities, warms vs. cools, darks vs. lights”

And this tip on finished paintings: “Probably the most important aspect of finishing a painting is not to finish it too quickly.”

About the artist and author

Craig Nelson has been painting for 30 years. He graduated from Art Center College of Design with distinction and won many awards. He began teaching in 1974 at Art Center College of Design and then at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco where he is Director of Fine Art, Drawing and Painting.

You can review the artist’s paintings at
Craig Nelson’s website.

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