Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Favorite Book About Painting--and Life

     The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert inspires and teaches me something every time I pick it up. This book comes home from the public library once every few months so that I can find a new idea in it--or remind myself of ideas that are easy to forget.

     Greg Albert's "simple secret" is the wonderful lesson of variety within balance, which I find a metaphor for an important secret to a meaningful life as well as to painting in ways that (hopefully) delight viewers. I hope he would not mind me mentioning his simple secret, which he calls the one central rule for design: "Never make any two intervals the same." Trust me that there is so much valuable information contained in the way Greg Albert spells out applications for this rule that I cannot and will not "give away" his secret in this brief blog post. If you have any interest in the visual arts or in any facet of design, this book is worth reading and rereading. I think its possible applications go way beyond painting alone.

     Mr. Albert uses painting examples to expand his simple rule to intervals of distance, shape, tonal value, color, and more--no sort of interval should be the same, he maintains. This advice is helpful at all stages of a creative process. Here's an example. One of my recurring painting mistakes is to trend too much toward mid-tone values, rather than to include at least small areas of more intense dark and very light values. I have no idea why that happens (an excess of caution, maybe?), but during the revision process, the value range often needs extending. Mr. Albert's rule is a reminder to include a broader value range as well as to make sure that the areas (or "intervals") of dark, light, and mid-tone should not be similar in overall size. A previous post about a painting called "Sea Oats" shows one example of revision that included adding some very light clouds and brightening light areas on a dune as well as deepening just a few very dark highlights.

     Another painting that required some added variety was "Hanna Park Heron" (sorry the colors here are not as intense as in the actual painting) , shown here beside the original reference photo (more about this painting was posted earlier also). Notice how the reference photo's background vegetation naturally repeats types of plants (shapes), colors, and sizes--not ideal for artistic composition. Then, notice the additions of the two light grey dead trees to change that sameness and to provide strong verticals across from the large palm trunk. You will be able to spot other changes from the reference photo and to consider my possible reasons for them.


Question of the day: Are you mostly a hands-on learner, or do you (like me) rely on well-illustrated books to learn and grow?


  1. I learn a lot from books and was recently given an exercise that largely put me in the visual learner category. That said, when it comes to instructional books, I often lose interest easily. I'm rather stupid that way. LOL

  2. You are not alone in losing interest in instructional books, Sherry, and some of them don't deserve much attention. But this book is fun, even for browsing and looking at the illustrations, reading a few pages here & there--and is also worth more careful reading. Learning style and preferences are very individual, that's for sure!

  3. Mmmm... Hands on teaches me to do things. Books help me to think. The two cross path at time though....:) I really enjoy you post of Florida. We just got back from a birding trip there a few weeks ago.

  4. Hey TB--great to hear you returned to FL for another birding trip--hope you saw a number of interesting species. I appreciate your insights on the advantages both kinds of learning bring to you. Thank you.