Good Artist, Bad Teacher – Art Lessons Gone Wrong

I was in our county library the other day looking through the beginner watercolor books to have reference examples for a student to take home over the weekend after our art lesson. As I leafed through many books I found myself getting agitated.

In my mind, books marked “for the complete beginner” and “basics of watercolor” should actually present techniques, exercises and projects for the true beginner. But that is not what was presented in many of the “beginner” books.

After the first few pages about materials, a few techniques were discussed, and then lovely, detailed, and advanced paintings were displayed. These are paintings that I would attempt at this point in my painting career. If I gave this assignment to beginning students in their art lessons, they would throw their hands up in frustration and possibly give up on watercolor and painting all together.Vail Aspen poppy floral

Setting someone up to fail is mean and defeats the purpose of teaching new artists to love painting. My only guess as to why these artists chose to showcase elaborate paintings is that they are very good artists who have forgotten how overwhelming it can be as a beginner in watercolor painting. Or perhaps they are just enamored with their own paintings.

I am all for motivating people to stretch and reach with their skills to improve, but first people need to have a few skills and tools in their toolbox. Would you take a child learning to count and immediately start lessons in fractions before learning addition and subtraction?

Thankfully I found a few books that really showcase techniques that are the foundation of watercolor painting, and provide exercises that increase in difficulty and complexity to allow the student to build on their newly acquired skillset. This is how we learn in my classes.

Just like when we went to school, it is helpful to have visual references after a lesson to reinforce the teachings, and to reference when a student forgets something, which many of us do after an introduction to something new.

So when I give lessons, I try to build on newly learned skills and techniques, keep it interesting for the student with various subjects and paintings, but not overwhelm them to the point of frustration.

Painting is something that is to be enjoyed, not endured.

If you wish to have recommendations of a few good basic books, or are interested in lessons, please let me know and I will be happy to help you!

Maybe I should write a book…

Happy Painting!


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