Qu: Will you be my [art] teacher?

A:   Yes. But do you really need one?

At times I wish someone had sat me down, back in the day, and taught me stuff – like how to use watercolour “properly”, or the best way to survive in an art world that’s bigger on the inside. It would have made my journey much easier.

But, is easier the best option?

My own practice was formed in the dusty isolation of Western Queensland. When I first started painting there were no art teachers in our town, nor any within cooee. This was before the internet, so no You-Tube. We barely had ABC radio!

I learnt, instead, by doing.

Each time I painted a picture, I learnt more about painting pictures. Each mistake was a blessing. Each artwork completed was one more step to the place I am now… still taking steps. Two thousand paintings, thirty years later, I am competent and experienced, but I’m still learning. I’ve learnt that if I wobble, it takes longer, but makes for a richer journey. I’ve learnt to trust the process, even if it’s not always efficient.

a painting by Christine Porter of some sheep moving through a gate. The painting is old, the paper looks browned and there are wrinkles in the paper.
This is my first sheep painting ever. If I’d waited for a teacher to show me how to “do it properly” the future would have been painted with a different brush.
Image: Sheep at “Abbotsford” 1995 Watercolour over pencil 16x9cm Collection of the artist
A painting of  a horned merino ram in a mob of other rams. By Christine Porter. Browns and greys, it looks like a hot dusty day.
34 years later this recent sheep painting shows the sort of confidence with the media, the process and the subject that can only come from hours at the easel.
Image: “Merino Ram” 2018 watercolour 20x20cm Sold private collection

Teachers are important.

I’m the artist I am now because of the generosity of those mentors I’ve worked with over the years, especially since I left the bush.

But no matter how good your teacher is, it’s what you do with their input that’s vital. 

Take what they’ve taught and sift through it. Be selective. If you’ve decided you want to make art, you’re half way there. Trust that you already know how to take the steps you need. It’s your own creative story you’re telling. No-one else can do it quite the way you can.

How to make art if you don’t know how to?

  • Just start. Grab a bit of gear. Find some time, some space. Start. Repeat. Then repeat again.
  • Find a teacher that suits you Be careful of helicopter teaching. Learn to question, research (especially now there’s the internet), experiment.
  • Give yourself permission to be a learner Allocate a certain amount of time, money or materials to spend on the experience of learning before you judge your results.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to exhibit, or decide what your “style” is. Formative years are the fun times. If you like keeping records do so, if not that’s fine too. Date your work so you can see how far you’ve come.
  • Spend time at the easel. You can’t learn to paint without it. And by paint, I mean draw, sculpt, write, embroider or any of the art and craft forms I’ve spoken about previously. All are grist to the creative mill. 
  • Enjoy the journey. It is the destination.

First Published

First published in St Carthages Home Care “Life1” Summer 2018

A Selection of Other Posts For You

A painting by Christine Porter of the view across a blue bay to hills with Norfolk Islan pines on it. Overlaid are the words "The 35 things I Learnt" and the web address ChristinePorter.com.au/blog/

The 35 Things I Learnt

When I said that I was going to go Norfolk Island as a student, more than one person asked why. “But you already know how to paint” they said. “But you’re a professional artist” they said.

I anticipated learning about one new thing a day. And I noted those. But when I began the list for those 7 days on the island, it was closer to five things a day. And there’s probably more yet.

Read More »

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