Learning To Paint At The Newlyn School Of Art

As a child I loved colouring and drawing and spent many hours of contentment with a pencil and paper. I never learnt to paint, opting to draw people, usually copied from teen magazines. I was told many times that I had a natural flair for art.

Fast forward to secondary school and my Art GCSE. I was told if I continued to copy photpgraphs I would get an F. Sadly, no one thought it fitting to show me how to paint. I never received one painting lesson. Sure enough, I walked away from school with an F grade, wondering how could I have a talent for art and do so badly.   

Despite many telling me I should pursue my interest in art, I didn’t. There was no art GCSE retake and no art A-Level. From here my inclination to draw rapidly dwindled and I gave up. I managed one final attempt of a girl in the bath when I was about 20. 

Pencil Drawing Woman in the Bath

Since then I’ve dipped my toe into some art lessons. I tried a 10 week watercolour painting course about a decade ago. It was good but not for me. Last year I was gifted an individual lesson with the lovely Cornwall based artist, Jilly Ballantyne. After this, I signed up to the Learning to Paint with Acrylics course for Beginners with Andrew Tozer at the Newlyn School of Art. I’m mostly drawn to acrylic paintings so this seemed like a good option. I also wanted to try something new.

Day 1 – Porthgwarra

Porthgwarra West Cornwall

Rocking up at Newlyn School of Art was quite exciting. It was a small course so we all had personal 1:1 time with Andrew. I really liked his approach, which was basically “lets just get out there and paint.”

Learning to paint at Newlyn meant we were taken to some wonderful Cornish venues, some of which, I’d never been to before. The first day saw us venturing to the pretty cove of Porthgwarra. It was ideal for painting with so many appealing spots grabbing my attention. Andrew gave a demonstration showing us how he approaches acrylic painting. It really was like watching a master at work. There was so much to take in from both watching Andrew paint, and listening to him narrate his process.

He made it look so easy, which of course it isn’t. 

After the demo, it was our turn. We all picked a spot, with most people opting to paint the cove. Me? I was drawn to one of the cottages with buoys hanging off the hand rail. I think it was the pop of colour that caught my eye. 

The time went quickly. I found myself looking at my painting and remembering the type of paintings I produced at school. It was literal and exact; I was disappointed even though I’d never picked up a paintbrush. I learnt on the first day that while I had an idea of how I wanted to paint, the reality was very different. Andrew said my shadowing was good, but I found it hard to mix enough of the colours I was using. This resulted in bits of my attempt being patchy.

It’s all part of the learning though.

For a very first attempt, I guess it isn’t bad. I look at it now and think it’s quite angular and rigid; learning to paint and accepting my limited skills as they were was going to be tough. I walked around looking at other people’s efforts and realised that I really was the only true beginner present. 

Unfinished Artist Impression Porthgwarra

Day 2 – Mousehole

I started the day feeling most enthused and wanting to improve on the day before. While we were looking at our Porthgwarra paintings over coffee, Andrew talked us through some painting styles and the use of light and shade. This was something to keep in mind for our second day of painting and is so important when learning to paint.  

Mousehole Harbour Cornwall

Day two saw us sitting on the pretty beach at Mousehole. Andrew gave another demonstration, talking through the colours he was picking up (squinting’s good for this) and how he captures light and shade. This time I paid more attention to how Andrew mixed his colours and how he builds up his paintings. I particularly like how he suggests things on his canvas, rather than rigidly painting them in. After 20 minutes, Andrew produced a beautiful painting that would look totally at home in a gallery. Effortless!

I found the second day really hard, things just weren’t coming together. I decided to paint some of the boats on the beach with the houses and headland in the background. Andrew commented that I seemed to be painting the parts rather than seeing, and painting, the whole. He was absolutely right. My boats were in the wrong place in relation to the houses; my perspective was all off. I received a quick lesson on measuring with my paintbrush (so handy!) and opted to paint over most of what I’d done and start again. 

Towards the end of the session, I was rushing. I felt I was painting by numbers and not focusing on what I was seeing. That said, the composition of my painting was improved compared to my first attempt. I was struggling with the houses and other details though. When I saw what others had produced, I found myself thinking about how I could use different brush marks, and how I could add texture and shade to my painting.  

This is my unfinished painting from day 2.

Unfinished Painting Mousehole Harbour

Day 3 – Marazion Beach

Andrew started the day by going over his palette – basically less is more. You don’t need to have the whole rainbow spectrum in your paintbox. We all went away with a Tozer palette list. He showed us his pochade box and how these are good for making you limit what you carry when heading outdoors for some plein air painting. 

St Michaels Mount Marazion Beach

Once we’d regrouped and shared our thoughts about the painting process so far, we set off to nearby Marazion beach. It’s the home of St Michael’s Mount. Once more, Andrew gave another flawless demonstration. This time I found I was watching how he used his brushes to make different marks. Unlike others on the course, I have no brushes or paints at home to play with and had skipped the mark making experimental phase. On reflection, learning to paint involves many components. there’s colour mixing, brush marks, light and shade, how to paint white. The list is quite long!

Even though I was sitting in front of one of Cornwall’s most famous landmarks, it was the causeway and buildings on the headland that caught my eye. I think I wanted to improve on the efforts the day before where houses were concerned. Plus the light reflecting off the roofs looked pretty amazing. 

As soon as I started putting brush to board, I felt my efforts would be different compared to the days before. I was excited to start painting and found the more I did, the more the advice, practice and observations seemed to fall into place. The colours worked well together. I found mixing colours from those I’d already mixed led to a cohesive palette. While it isn’t perfect, it looks more relaxed than my previous paintings. It helped that I made my board smaller too. I found it hard to know when to stop painting; there’s definitely a risk of overworking it. 

Acrylic Painting Gwithian Beach

Why Learn To Paint?

Spending three days painting is many things and comes with numerous benefits. It’s relaxing (I felt like I was on holiday), experience and confidence building, and it allowed me to tap into my creative side. I don’t class myself as a natural painter but I could see how much I improved over 3 days. I’ve always liked and appreciated art but have often resisted the urge to sketch or draw, feeling that I wasn’t good enough. Isn’t it funny how much of our education defines us ,and steers us into certain directions?

Completing this Learning to Paint with Acrylics course with Andrew Tozer has taught me that it’s okay to go with my own style of painting and let it take time to develop and blossom. Andrew never taught us how to paint as such. He showed us how he approaches painting and guided the development of our individual interpretation and creativity. And that’s what I liked the most. 

I’ve come away desperately wanting to paint or draw frequently. I need to buy some paints and brushes, and spend time consolidating the skills I’ve learnt over the last 3 days. I came home and sketched in my lovely new sketchbook that has been untouched for 12 months. Andrew recommended a book called Daily Painting by Carol Marine. It’s on the Amazon Wishlist and I can’t wait to get going with a brush, pencil, charcoal or pastel.

Author: plbedford

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