Swinging the Brush

An introduction to easel painting – by Graham S Baker


You might remember the Rolling Stones song “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. Plants, animals and human beings crave satisfaction…….that is, they have a basic urge to express their nature to the full. Palm trees do not thrive in Labrador, polar bears in the tropics; but in a setting conducive to their species they can achieve the harmony (satisfaction) they seek. The pine requires nutrition, light and water to come to full maturity……..denied any of these essentials it’s growth will be stunted……..but if it’s needs are fulfilled, one day it will be a magnificent tree fulfilling it’s destiny. Humans, being slightly more complicated than plants and worms, have an imagination, leaving them with an additional appetite. Aside from food and a comfortable temperature range, to find meaningful satisfaction, human beings must answer the demand of their imagination to be creative or suffer the consequences.

We express our urge to be creative in both obvious and subtle ways………..the way we walk, talk etc., and by selecting personal preferences, visually, with our taste, smell, touch and hearing. We decorate ourselves, our homes and communities…….all of this to quench the thirst of our unique desire to be creative.

Some people devote their lives to the arts. These people have struck the mother lode...................... a never ending inexhaustible opportunity to express their essence. Striving in any art form (painting, sculpture, writing etc.) provides them with the ability to satisfy the natural basic urge to create and will bring them, from time to time, into a harmonious state where they will experience the essence of their being and find themselves satisfied (whole).

Painters should pay particular attention to a statement by artist/teacher Charles Hawthorne: “Art is a necessity, beauty we must have in the world. Painting and sculpture and music and literature are all part of the same piece as civilization, which is the art of making it possible for human beings to live together. When I speak of art I mean painting, architecture, music, literature, sculpture, the theatre, in fact everything that’s creative………..anything that makes a thought, an idea, or a thing grow where nothing grew before; or a fundamental truth expand and show some angle of beauty which calls special attention to its being a fundamental truth………”.

(Hawthorne On Painting first published in 1938)

Chapter One
In the Beginning

"Those who paint should dip their brush into the essence of their being and spread that expression on canvas...........or in the words of Billy Shakespeare "to thine own self be true." Graham Baker

Painting is the easiest thing in the world........you pick up pigment and spread it on a flat surface. I once saw a chimpanzee paint but I was rather disappointed with the results. If you view paintings by Rembrandt or any of the masters you have to admit that unlike the chimpanzee, they have made many intelligent decisions arriving at their final product. They have paid attention to the painting principles and used them as a guide. If you intended to construct a vehicle it would be prudent before you start to understand ignition, braking and suspension systems and so on. To paint you should aware of these principles that will enable you to deliver a work of art. Surprisingly they are few in number and easy to grasp. If you are not aware of them you can be compared to the surgeon who never took the time to study anatomy, blood circulation, body chemistry and other fundamentals necessary to the successful doctor. I don't know about you but I don't want him operating on me. If it is your desire to paint the forest , mountains , the sea or whatever, and produce a visual expression worth while looking at, then you must go through a learning experience and become aware of the basics........composition, colour harmony and the effective use of lights and darks and so on. This information is simple and acquiring it can be a pleasure, but you must be devoted to the pursuit or you are wasting your time.

All paintings can roughly be placed in one of the two families; the abstract group and those we will call representational paintings......... in the latter you will recognize flowers, faces, bottles, trees or whatever forms the painter has selected. My remark are limited to this "representation" family of paintings.

In the world of representational art there are three universally truths. There is such a thing as good composition, colour harmony, and the behaviour of lights and darks. As you come to understand these concepts your easel efforts will improve, without this awareness they suffer.


Many painters and would be painters have their mind clouded by doubts about their so called "talent"; have the gods amply endowed them? Before we deal with the five real challenges faced on every painting from the first to the last you ever do, let us lay to rest this doubt. Talent is as common as grass..... dedication rare. You learn to paint by much painting. The essential talent is feelings. As Van Gogh advised "....the way to love life is to love many things." If you use your love, and if it is a strong love, be it of the ocean or the desert , sufficient "talent"will surface to see you through. But love is not enough. Those who ignore the principles, the golden guides offered free of charge by the Cezanne's of the world will reap their just reward.. If you love the act of painting, if you marry this desire to intelligent information and you satisfy your compulsion to express yourself visually by doing a great deal of painting you will meet with unexpected success at unexpected hours at the easel.

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