When I was teaching my last session of watercolor classes I saw my students learning so much and was jealous. I realized that I wanted a teacher too! So I began a search for an oil painting mentor to review my work in progress, give me guidance and help me progress.
First I tried advertising on Craigslist, describing what I needed. But the artists who responded weren’t a good fit. I wanted a mentor whose work excited and inspired me AND who was a good teacher. Then Rebeca Garcia Gonzalez sent me a postcard announcement for her show of portraits of undocumented immigrants and I fell in love with her paintings. I knew she also taught at a local art school so I emailed her my proposal, we met, and she agreed to mentor me.
At our first meeting she reviewed a dozen recent oil paintings and knew right away what I needed to work on. She said that I needed to focus on my values (the range and contrast of light to dark) and I knew she was exactly right.
She asked me to sketch using ink and diluted ink washes and to start paying close attention to values in everything I see, when I’m out walking, or just looking out the window.
She suggested I ask myself, “Is this shape darker or lighter than that shape,” noticing the value relationships in everything I see to strengthen that ability. For example, a black object in bright sunlight might look lighter, relatively, than something white that is in shadow.
So much of learning to paint is learning to see, and so much of learning to see involves a kind of “peeling layers of the onion” off of our eyes to see the relationships, shapes, colors, and values in the current light and atmosphere, which can be shockingly different from what we think they are.