An oil painting lesson being given outside

So, a few days ago I was walking through the park and came across what was obviously an art class of some kind. There were about 8 students painting landscapes, each in their own spot.

I walked past the woman in the photo who was receiving her “turn” from the teacher and I just had to listen in.

After I listened for a little bit, I thought to myself, I have to share this with the people on my mailing list and blog so I will tell you what I heard

The instructor was pointing out drawing mistakes in the students’ work. That’s fine I suppose, but you don’t need to use paint to learn how to draw. You can use a drawing tool for that.

He was mentioning that a post, stuck in the ground, that she had painted in her picture should be much higher than she had it.

Like I said above, spending time on correcting drawing really doesn’t teach you anything about using oil paint. Unfortunately a lot of time is spent on that very thing during oil painting lessons.

He also pointed to the background and told her “You may want to soften that area” – This is common stuff for an art class.

The thing is, he never told her “How?” to soften.The instructor then went into what I call “paintingspeak”. He started telling the student “It’s like a wrestling match and you just have to fight with your canvas and hopefully you will come out on top”

It was at this point that I left.

Look, the instructor seemed like a nice guy and the woman had some ability, but ask yourself this…

“How will any of that instruction help her make her next painting better? How will it even help her to make sure the same exact problems won’t happen in her next painting?

What are the chances there be a post stuck in the ground in her next painting? So telling her that the post should be higher will not help her with her next painting. If she needs to have something in her painting be longer or bigger again (meaning a drawing correction) she’ll need the art teacher to tell her where and what the correction should be…again.

This type of instruction is teaching her is to rely on the art teacher to tell here where her drawing mistakes are.

If she needs to have an area softened, did she know how to soften? Maybe they went over the “how?” of softening before, but from the instruction I watched, the student was just supposed to know how or the teacher assumed the student knew how.

And, I don’t know what the “wrestling match metaphor” will teach her. Maybe inspiration to not give up is all I can think of.

Now, let’s take an alternative way to learn.

If she had a step by step plan, a sort of formula or checklist, that was a sequence that everyone could reference, would it not be easier to teach someone and make corrections?

If this was the “veilings and glazes” stage of a set painting process that was being taught, for example, the teacher and student would both be on the same page. There would be a similar point of reference. You could focus on things like what your color mixture was for your glaze. You could talk about a medium that you are using for the glaze and things of that nature.

There are definite steps in the complete formula that you can always reference when learning. And only the step that was being worked on would be talked about.

Talking about drawing, brush techniques(softening) and mystical metaphors are too confusing and frankly, do not give you any tangible instruction that you can apply to your next painting.

I like to bring up when you learned how to do long addition as a kid in school. You learned a formula…

Step 1) Write the numbers on top of each other like this…


Step 2) Add the single numbers in the rightmost column


A definite formula was taught. You learned the steps and then you practiced using the formula adding any numbers you wanted.

The steps you learned worked immediately. And you saw immediate results.

That’s what I try to make my teaching all about. Teaching the oil painting process and formulas of traditional oil painting and the old masters so you can paint whatever you want.

Not to simply copy them, but to use the oil painting process so you can express yourself. In your own way.

Hey There!

I'm Ethan

Teaching oil painting for over 20 years. I love to help others reach their artistic potential. Always keep on learning!

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  • I see what you mean: I once helped a friend out on a photographic course here in Italy: I was horrified at the rubbish that one of the ‘tutors’ was coming out with. (I am a qualified teacher and have a Masters in photography) As you said, no help with technique, just wishy washy, arty farty nonsense……

    Off to wrestle . . . . . 🙂

  • Now, exactly what would you have said to the artist? About the post, about softening? I taught art in high school for years only because I was told to do so. I love to paint but am not good at it at all and I know that. I have three of your programs and am going to study them now that I am retired, 47 years teaching 7 of those art and AP ART HISTORY. I loved teaching and hope that I never stiffiled a student but I’m still not an artist and surely know it.

    • Ginny, I would not start a class with “go pick a spot and something to paint and I’ll come around and tell you what you’re doing wrong”

      Everyone would be following either the same procedure (if that’s what the class was about) or they would be following some set procedure.

      Then the student and teacher would be on the same page.

      For example, if you were teaching multiplication to students, you wouldn’t tell them – “ok pick some numbers and multiply them and I’ll be around to tell you what you’re doing wrong”

      You would have a lesson plan. And you would go over the steps, the procedures with students. What those steps are and how to do them.

      The same should be done with painting.

  • You are so right, Ethan! I love your math metaphor. It is so apt!
    A student who is told WHAT to do, but not HOW to do it has learnt nothing he/she can use.
    As a student, I want to know the techniques for painting.

    I don’t care if the teacher likes it or not when I finish the painting. It’s only a subjective view. If I want an authoritative view of my completed painting, I’ll subject it to judgment in a meaningful competition.

    The important thing is for the teacher to show me how to use ‘the tools’ needed to construct a competent painting. That’s all I’m paying for. My objective is not to learn to paint to satisfy his/her ‘taste’ in art.

  • Again Ethan, you are so right. I have admired your tecnic and pictures for a long time. Your instruction is what I am going back to and pick up over and over again. Thank you Ethan. I highly recomand your e-books and DVD’s.

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