Pear value studies and thoughts about art education

pear value studies in gouache and acrylic
With these pear studies, I focused much more on getting the values right than matching the colors to the reference image. The pear on the left was painted in gouache on a purple ground, and the two on the right were painted with acrylic on Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold ground.

I started this week by dedicating my afternoon “art class” time to developing my watercolor skills, and by the end of the week found myself using gouache and acrylic. It started with a series of classes on YouTube by watercolor artist and instructor Stan Miller. His lessons really resonated with me and surprisingly helped me go from being too concerned about watercolor skills to working more on what he considers the two fundamental elements of watercolor painting that artists need to get right before worrying about technical skills (assuming you’re trying to paint realism):

  1. Drawing
  2. Values

He stresses that color and composition come before technical skills as well. At first this was frustrating to hear because I had been so intent on improving my skills with watercolor specifically. Which isn’t to say he avoids teaching those skills — he covers basics like controlling your brush and water in Lesson 11 and 12 in a clear and systematic way, as well as actual paintings so you can see him at work.

The thing I realized that was so liberating about this idea is that it applies to all media. It’s not all about getting the perfect brush strokes with watercolor. At least not as a beginner. I think with time, I’ll learn to get the watercolor to do what I want but the key is that it takes time and experience.

When he unlocked this idea in my mind, I thought it would be cool to spend some time with the other media I want to explore (which is how I ended the week with gouache and acrylic!). With my goal of becoming an illustrator, the technical skills of whatever tools I’m using certainly matter. But it’s less critical than being able to draw what I want to depict, rendering the values well, and creating a good composition. And underneath it all is telling a story. Some believe that whether you’re creating fine art or an illustration to support a larger piece like a book or article, it begins with the story (or perhaps more simply, the concept). I like this idea as a way to bring the viewer in and engage with the piece.

Recognizing these things helps me shape my self-directed art education. One of my big struggles right now is that I want to learn everything all at once. No surprise that this is overwhelming and scattered, and I’d rather find more efficient ways to build upon different aspects of an art and illustration education. With all of the podcasts I’m listening to, videos I’m watching, and books I’m reading, I’m starting to get some clarity around this.

I’d like to try shaping my learning path around:
  1. drawing, including figure studies (this is well under way: I read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and am finding a lot of fantastic information on
  2. values (have done a little bit with this already with lots more exercises lined up to work on)
  3. color
  4. composition
And running parallel to these things will be:
  1. telling a story/concepting (I’m going through the lessons from Khan Academy and Pixar for this)
  2. skill development of various media (oh-so-many books on my shelf for this!)

I’m not sure exactly how this will break down, like whether I want to do class-like sessions on each subject or float in and out of each as needed. I also have the book Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis coming in the mail, which looks to be a bit like a textbook so it may guide me as well.

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