More thoughts about painting

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How fortunate we are when a truly great artist not only has the ability to create wonderful, enduring paintings, but also has the gift of teaching and is able and willing to share that knowledge with others. This is the story of John F. Carlson. It is through artists like him that Sunday painters, hobbyists, and professional students like me learn and grow as artists.

In his book, “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting”, Carlson shares valuable insights gleaned from years of experience. This book is a must for every landscape painter and should be at the forefront of one’s art library. Following are some quotes from his book worth considering. (Click images to enlarge)


“If you feel things intensely and can learn to see simply, a style or manner will develop that will be adequate, and it will be as ‘individual’ and different from anyone else’s style as your personal idiosyncrasies dictate. Your color sense, too, will improve along personal lines, and it too will always be distinctive and characteristic of you. I have never met two individuals who saw color identically, not only the physical construction of the eye, but the personal predilection or soul-state of each individual causes him to see differently. Copies of personalities are neither possible nor desirable in our world.”


“Beauty of method comes of experience and similarly cannot be forced. What beauty in a physical sense really is, no man has yet fathomed. It is like an electric current; we use it, feel it, know in a sense how to harness it, but we do not know what it is.”


There is a spirit behind beauty which is its cause.


“The beginner in painting begins by copying nature in all literalness, leaving nothing out and putting nothing in; he makes it look like the place or person or thing. By and by he will learn to omit the superfluous and to grasp the essentials and arrange them into a more powerful and significant whole. It is wonderful to know that these essentials will be essential to him only (and herein lies the secret of originality). Another man will choose another group of essentials out of the same fountain of inspiration.”


“A sketch is a true statement of things as you found them; the picture is an arrangement of these things as you wish them to be.”

“Mere knowledge can never create a masterpiece, but neither can childish simplicity. The simplicity thesis, brought to a logical conclusion, would resolve that the youngest child would be the best artist. If so, what then is the use of living, thinking, trying, experimenting? It is true that all great works of art are simple, but the simplicity in them is not born of ignorance. Real simplicity is engendered by the insight of the artist into the abiding qualities in his motif, and an ability to choose these qualities for his use, omitting the dross. His is a superior sensitiveness. If mere feeling or sensitiveness to beauty would produce a work of art, artists would be legion.”

“Artistic power comes with the exercising of the God-given faculties. It is difficult to go forward, but the backward slide comes with no effort. When effort is relaxed, we retrogress. All this does not mean that by mere hard work, or by merely growing old, one can become anything desired. There are men who work and grub incessantly, work so hard that they have not time to see! The inspirational and impressionable moments are shut out.”

“An artist must first know his craft. He must master the technical markings and he must not fear to ‘waste time’ in studying the masters, both ancient and modern.”


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