Blog: Learning to paint (better) in the time of Corona – doing CVP

The Backstory

In February this year, I slipped on the ice in the mountains and broke my shoulder. Feeling a bit down, I decided to treat myself to a major painting course (I’m a bit of a course-junkie).  The decision to register was made harder because we were to be in South Africa (SA) for the first 4 weeks where I could follow the input sessions but not do any painting for the weekly projects.

Anyway, off we went to SA in early March (at this point they had only about 5 cases of Covid) but it soon became clear that the world was changing by the day. Switzerland locked down and suddenly SA did the same. We went to ground in a small village near Cape Town until we  - on the third attempt – managed to get a repatriation flight back to Switzerland on the 9 April. Ironically, this was only two days later than our original return date – we just hadn’t done half the places we’d planned.

So, long story short, I ended up with the perfect project for Corona lockdown. The weeks literally flew by. And there were so few distractions!

The course

The Art2Life Creative Visionary Program (CVP) offered by Californian artist, Nicolas Wilton, was the obvious choice.  I’ve followed Nick’s weekly Vlog (Visual Blog) for sometime, and knew CVP was starting in March. The course goes over 15 weeks (if you include the three free introductory weeks) and it is all on-line, and very intensive. Fortunately, you get access to the input for a whole year, which helped me make the decision.

About 1200 people were on the course, from all over the English-speaking world.  Interestingly, about a quarter were alumni from previous years, which says a lot about the course. Some were virtual beginners (a brilliant grounding); others were experienced artists or were coming back to art. This was my first experience of intensive on-line learning and I was pretty impressed. I’m not particularly technical, but I found it all easy, using either my I-Pad  (in SA) or my Desktop. (Good Wi-Fi is essential)

The input (about 8 to 12 hours per week) used Zoom but could be watched at a more friendly time via the Facebook group. Then we had our painting projects which took at least 5 hours a week. We posted our work to the group Facebook file where some was selected each week for on-line assessment by a couple of the presenter-trainers. Here they showed us various ways these paintings could be improved, using the principles we were learning and depending on our intentions. On top of this, there was the group communication and support – which took as much time as you personally wanted. (In my case, not much – firstly, I was so busy catching up the work I had missed while away, and secondly, I’m not one to write much on social media.)

We had to do all our work on small 30 x 30 panels. The earlier pieces were mostly experimental trying out aspects of form, value, colour, texture. We were encouraged to go over the paintings many times, building on what aspects we liked until we ended up with work that met the criteria for a good picture.

I only finished with about 4 small works but the process continued afterwards… I now have a series of about 8 consistent pieces and about 6 related works.

What were my main take-aways?

  • The Inspiration Board. In the first week we were asked to think about the things in life which give us joy, encouraging us to be more self-aware and to use this as a source for our art (“put all of yourself into your art”). I found this a very life-affirming exercise and plan to do it each year.

  • My biggest take away is the increased ability to evaluate my paintings and improve them. In the past I had checklists, but CVP, with its multiple sessions on making pictures stronger, helped me really internalize the principles.

  • I now push my values (dark/light) further, and pay more attention to the way the eye moves around the whole picture.

  • I’ve learnt to push work further than I used to do (“don’t fall in love too soon”). I’ve also learnt to add more fine details “quiet conversation” only visible from close up, strengthening the appeal and individuality of the work.

  • I worked in series before, but now I do so more consciously, letting each work inform and push the others.  And I try to alternate between playful, intuitive painting and discerning evaluation.

  • Risk and Soul. These are two ingredients are essential to good art, and while I think some of my pre-CVP work had soul, I don’t think I risked enough partly because I had difficulty with work going through ugly stages (I’m one of those old-fashioned artists, who believe in beauty.)

Overall, CVP pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me feel like a beginner again, without preconceptions and limiting beliefs.  My horizons were expanded in every way. In fact, it helped that we were in the middle of a pandemic, and were lockdown for 10 weeks. There were no distractions, we walked the same areas for months and this was all I saw, so no wonder this environment crept into my art as a very consistent series. (Something I’ve found hard before.)

Conclusion

Would I recommend the course? Yes, most definitely! The group of about six artist-trainers were incredibly generous with their knowledge and experience.  The learning was expressed in different ways and got increasingly nuanced, meaning there was something for every artist-participant, as whatever point on their journey. I understand why many artists repeat the course too – basically we absorb the lesson we are ready for, so a year or two later, you may be ready for other lessons.  It was very comprehensive and thorough. This meant I filled various gaps in my knowledge of brushes, medium, glazes, finishes, colour mixing.  I finally took on board lessons I’d been resistant too,  I corrected some bad habits and was reminded of techniques and tricks, I'd forgotten.

And one final very important thing – the course or the organization, Art2Life – offers you a community to share your artist’s journey with. You don’t have to join if you don’t what to. That’s up to you.

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Colour Field 2 - Alethea
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Farm field Geometry
Farm field Geometry
Abstract landscapes exploring the geometry of summer farm fields - the patchwork effects.
Abstract landscapes exploring the geometry of summer farm fields - the patchwork effects.
Farm field Geometry
Abstract landscapes exploring the geometry of summer farm fields - the patchwork effects.
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